Forty-seven fights and nearly 20 years into his professional career, Floyd Mayweather, considered by most to be the finest pugilist of his generation, will face the defining moment of his professional life. When he calls his bout with Manny Pacquiao Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas “just another fight,” as he did in a recent conference call with the media, you can be assured he’s lying through his beautifully white teeth.
“Once you ever get into a boxing match of this nature and you’ve never lost before, you wake up in the morning, your heart is beating, you go to bed with a fast beat,” former heavyweight champion George Foreman told the press last week. “You’re nervous. There’s so much pressure on Mayweather. More pressure probably than any athlete around right now because he’s undefeated.”
This isn’t just a fight. It’s the fight. At stake is everything he holds dear—his status as the best ever, his championship belts and pound-for-pound accolades and, most importantly, his perfect record. So much focus has been put on the zero in Mayweather’s 47-0, that little thought has been devoted to what it would mean if it flipped over and showed a different number—one.
Mayweather’s place in history, by his own reckoning, all comes down to that. When he says he’s better than Muhammad Ali and every other boxer who’s come before him, it’s on the strength of that zero.
“I take my hat off and then acknowledge all of the past champions,” Mayweather said. “Ali, I think he was a legend. I respect Ali like I respect any other champion. I just feel like I’ve done everything I can do in this sport over my whole life, for 30-something years. I feel like I’ve done just as much in this sport as Ali did.”
A loss to Pacquiao, his own claim as this generation’s best fighter buttressed by a decade’s trial and toil in the ring, will change everything for Mayweather. It will lend credence to the whispers provided in steady supply by his doubters, accusations that he cherry-picked his fights and took a soft route to greatness. That he met his Hall of Fame foes only after Father Time did the real work for him.
That reductive premise is ludicrous in part. Mayweather has beaten a multitude of Hall of Fame-level opponents in his career. Whether they were at their absolute pinnacle or not, he’s been in with greatness and emerged each time with his hand raised high.
A single loss to Pacquiao doesn’t erase that. He’s earned a spot on any list of the sport’s 50 best fighters, regardless of what happens in this bout. But a loss closes the door on any comparison to the Alis and Sugar Ray Robinsons of the world. It may even, in fact, propel Pacquiao past him when history is finally written, even if both he and Manny appear to be mere shadows of their past selves.
“This fight is very important to me and in boxing history,” Pacquiao admitted at the opening press conference. “We don’t want to leave a question mark in the mind of boxing fans.”
In a few days, all our questions will finally be answered in the ring. Until then, what follows will have to suffice. Who are these fighters? Why do they matter? And, perhaps most importantly, who will win? Bleacher Report is here to help answer those questions and prepare you for the fight of the century.
Have a prediction of your own? Let us hear it in the comments.